The crystal structure of the MLL3 ePHD6 (extended PHD6, ePHD6) domain revealed that it contains a canonical PHD domain preceded by a zinc knuckle composed of two antiparallel b strands and an a helix (b1: V1055-C1057, b2: G1061-S1064, a1: A1079-S1085). The MLL3 ePHD6 domain formed a dimer through two N-terminal cysteine residues, which coordinated a zinc ion (C1058, C1060, Zn0) with two cysteine residues from each protomer of the dimer. In addition, a domain swapping between these two ePHD6 molecules also contributed to the dimer formation, in which a zinc ion (H1059, C1069, C1079, C1081, Zn1) was chelated by three cysteine residues from one molecule and one histidine residue from the other molecule. The dimer involved only the preceding zinc fingers, but not the PHD domain itself. However, our gel filtration profiles showed that the extended PHD6 domain of MLL3 behaved as a monomer in solution, like the PHD6 domain itself. Therefore, the dimer was formed probably due to artificial crystal packing, which has been observed in other PHD proteins.
In the complex structure, the histone H4 peptide bound to one molecule of the two ePHD6 molecules and was induced to form a β strand antiparalleling with β3 (I1100-C1103) of ePHD6. The residues 14GAKRHR19 of the histone H4 peptide could be traced reliably. The H4G14, H4K16 and H4H18 residues formed main chain hydrogen bonds with the main chains of Q1102, I1100, E1097 and D1098 of MLL3, respectively, allowing the β-sheet formation between the H4 peptide and ePHD6 of MLL3. The side chain of H4A15 was accommodated in a shallow hydrophobic pocket, formed by L1101, V1123 and A1127 of MLL3, while its main chain was restricted by W1109 of MLL3. The aliphatic chain of H4K16 stacked with the aromatic ring structure of W1109 and interacted with the hydrophobic side chain of I1100. H4R17 formed a salt bridge with E1120 and H4R19 formed a salt bridge with E1097. In addition to the salt bridge with E1120, H4R17 also formed a hydrogen bond with the main chain of E1097. Thus the positive side chain of H4R17 was clasped in a negative channel formed by E1120 and E1097. The imidazole ring of H4H18 lied against the side chain of Y1094 and was further restricted by the main chain carbonyl groups of L1084 from the preceding zinc finger (Zn1, V1055-S1085) and R1095 of PHD6. The α-helix α1 from the zinc finger Zn1, which packed against the β4 (D1107-H1111) of ePHD6, contributed to the formation of the peptide binding groove.